A team of researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory & the University of Massachusetts Amherst have built liquid robots that can operate autonomously & continuously without the need for electrical inputs, according to a press release.
Self-powered aqueous robots, inspired by insects walking on water, released chemicals while partially submerged in solution, proving their potential as a method of automated chemical synthesis or drug delivery for pharmaceuticals.
“We have overcome an obstacle in designing a liquid robotic system that can operate autonomously using chemistry to control the buoyancy of an object,” explained lead author Tom Russell, professor of polymer science & Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in a press release. .
‘Liquibots’ just keep on running
This is not the first time that “liquibots” have been demonstrated; However, in previous studies, liquibots could only perform a task on their own once, while others could perform the task continuously but required electricity to keep running. Now, in the study published in the journal Nature Chemistry, researchers were able to develop liquibots that do not require electricity because they derive their energy chemically from surrounding media.
The feat was made possible thanks to numerous experiments which showed that “feeding” salt of the liquibots makes them heavier than the surrounding liquid solution, allowing them to cluster in middle of the fluid, where they fill with certain chemical.
This causes a reaction in liquibots which produces oxygen bubbles, which act like balloons to pull them to the surface, where they unload their cargo & continue the process as long as “food” is present in the system.
The liquid robots, which look like “open sacks” and are only 2mm in diameter, move chemicals back and forth while being partially submerged in the solution, as shown in the video below.
And one of the best things is that liquibots can multi task at the same time, depending on their formulation. The press release states that some can detect various types of gases in the environment, while others react to specific substances. It could also be used to create self contained, continuous robotic systems that screen small chemical samples for therapeutic purposes, as well as for drug discovery & synthesis.
As a next step, the researchers want to study how they can augment the technology for larger systems, while exploring how it works on solid surfaces. And added to the fact that in 10 years you might have nanobots swimming in your blood to keep you from getting sick, that’s just one more step into the future of medicine.